How to Keep Christ in Christmas: A Parable

A couple of weeks ago, during Advent, I decided to do something ostensibly “nice” for myself. I decided that it was time, despite my newly-found vocation as a perpetually depressed and isolated widower, to get out and do something enjoyable for a change. Music is something I enjoy, and so, I reasoned, I ought to get out and see a musical performance. In grad school at Notre Dame, I made it a habit each week on Sunday afternoons to watch a classical performance that took place right by the library where I did my studies. “Right by the library” literally meant a few paces from the library, so while the concert took place in the middle of the afternoon–premium study time–I couldn’t easily appeal to transit costs as an excuse for not going. Continue reading

Christine McVie (1943-2022), RIP

I can’t react to the death of Christine McVie without at the same time re-living the death of my wife Alison Bowles, who lived and breathed the music of Fleetwood Mac. That’s something I’d rather not do, at least in public, so I’ll leave it at the thought that like just about everyone of my age and background, I grew up listening to Fleetwood Mac, and even at my most “metal,” couldn’t help liking them. It was through Alison that I came to love them, and through Alison’s death that their music has become a constant reminder of her, and a bittersweet fixture in my psyche. Here’s my favorite one of McVie’s songs, which manages, at least for me, to conjure up the ghosts of childhood wonder, and with it, the evanescence of adult happiness. That’s probably not what she intended when she wrote it, but eventually, the creations of a great artist take on a life of their own.

The Invisible Casualties of CBT

This article just below reads like a companion piece to my earlier post on my late wife’s Alison’s struggles with chronic pain.

https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2021/11/11/how-cbt-harmed-me-the-interview-that-the-new-york-times-erased/

I agree almost entirely with Alana Saltz, the author of the article, and am saddened that Alison isn’t here to read it (in fact, I had to fight my initial impulse to send it to her). Saltz lays out many of the criticisms of CBT that Alison had made to me over the years, both as a therapist herself, and as someone with chronic pain. Before hearing those criticisms, I’d always had some vague unease about CBT that I wasn’t quite able to pinpoint. It wasn’t until Alison started expressing her criticisms of CBT in the direct, concrete, and vehement way characteristic of her that I was able to re-focus my own vague, nebbish doubts about it. I wrote some of those criticisms up for grad seminars in CBT back when I was a grad student in counseling, but never did anything with what I wrote. Saltz’s piece reinforces my confidence in my criticisms; maybe I ought to take the time to write them up. Here, in any case, is a quick summary.

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The Invisible Casualties of the “Opioid Epidemic”

My wife Alison was one of the casualties of the tragedy described in the article just below. She took her life this past March by overdosing (I surmise) on the medications she’d been prescribed for chronic pain. She explicitly told me over the years that she kept a stash with her at all times in case things got bad enough for her to have to take her own life. “I have no intention of living past 70,” she’d often say. She was 57.

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Tragedy, Catharsis, and Explanation

In the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Aristotle’s Poetics, Joe Sachs writes (italics mine):

Because the suffering of the tragic figure displays the boundaries of what is human, every tragedy carries the sense of universality. Oedipus or Antigone or Lear or Othello is somehow every one of us, only more so. But the mere mention of these names makes it obvious that they are not generalized characters, but altogether particular. And if we did not feel that they were genuine individuals, they would have no power to engage our emotions. It is by their particularity that they make their marks on us, as though we had encountered them in the flesh. It is only through the particularity of our feelings that our bonds with them emerge. What we care for and cherish makes us pity them and fear for them, and thereby the reverse also happens: our feelings of pity and fear make us recognize what we care for and cherish. When the tragic figure is destroyed it is a piece of ourselves that is lost. Yet we never feel desolation at the end of a tragedy, because what is lost is also, by the very same means, found. I am not trying to make a paradox, but to describe a marvel. It is not so strange that we learn the worth of something by losing it; what is astonishing is what the tragedians are able to achieve by making use of that common experience. They lift it up into a state of wonder.

Though Sachs disclaims the desire to make a paradox, I find his claim curious–neither obviously false nor obviously true, but puzzling to the point of inducing a bit of wonderment. I’m interested to hear what readers think.

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Ecce Cuomo

It may seem strange to have so political a reaction to the death of a spouse, but I find myself, in the wake of my wife Alison Bowles’s recent untimely death, seeing the world through her eyes. And she was, if anything, a politically opinionated person whose perspective on the world permanently changed the way I look at it. I’ve certainly done my share of entirely private grieving for her (and have a long way to go), but I can’t help feeling an imperative to preserve what I regard as her distinctive outlook on the world beyond our marriage.

This story in The New York Times about Andrew Cuomo strikes a particular chord.

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“If You Can Make It Here…” Thoughts on Life in “The City”

I saw the Op-Ed below in The New York Times the other day, arguing that those who “deserted” New York City during the pandemic, and now wish to return, ought to be “punished” by having to pay a resettlement tax. The author writes as though he suffered some great, distinctive hardship, and/or enacted some great act of social justice or virtue by staying in New York when others left.

I’m not really sure what he’s talking about, or what he thinks he’s talking about. Judging from what he writes, he did nothing of significance but stay in Brooklyn, suffering nothing more significant than what most New Yorkers suffer for living where they do. How it is that departure from such a place should mark one out for punishment is nowhere explained in the article–mostly, I suspect, because there is no explanation to be given. If people followed the author’s “advice,” immigration from the developing world would end tomorrow. We would all stay in the shitholes in which we found ourselves. That the author is content to do so is his problem, no one else’s. Someone ought to tell him.

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Coronavirus Diary (42): Should the Parks Be Closed in Jersey?

Feel free to believe this or not, but just about everyone who knows me well–friends, wives, ex’s–knows of my long history of altercations with the cops. Many of these altercations have taken place during my nocturnal rambles in local parks. Cops often claim that the parks “close,” and are willing to hassle anyone walking in the park “after hours.”* In doing so, they will often (falsely) insist that “there’s a curfew,” and ignore the blackletter of the laws they claim to be enforcing. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (3): Creeping Death

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
–Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

I count it as a great blessing that I have so far, at age fifty, managed to avoid becoming a father. Amusingly enough, my ex-wife once told me, flat out, “Before I met you, I was on the fence about having children. I no longer am. You would make a terrible father. So I’ve abandoned the idea.” Music to my ears.

And yet, I’ve just had a phone conversation with one of my best friends, in which he asked me whether I would temporarily take custody of his child in the event that both he and his wife die of COVID-19. “Yes,” I say, without hesitation. I actually like his kid, as kids go. Granted, the custody he imagines is temporary, until family members could come and do a formal adoption. My friend knows me well enough to know that coronavirus or no, it makes little sense to turn me into a bona fide step-father. One catastrophe is enough. Continue reading

Psychotherapy and Chronic Pain: An Interview with Alison Bowles

Here’s an online interview with my wife (and PoT blogger) Alison Bowles, conducted by Raymond Barrett of the Telehealth Certification Institute in Canandaigua, New York. Alison is a psychotherapist in private practice with an on-ground presence in Manhattan, and a developing online practice.

The interview focuses on an under-discussed issue in therapy–therapy with people suffering from chronic pain. We hear so much about the “opioid crisis” that we forget that it’s overshadowedby a long shot–by a chronic pain crisis. There’s also a dangerous trend in mental health of pretending that chronic pain conditions can be managed and resolved by the magic of mindfulness and meditation. Though many studies suggest that such claims are nonsense, that hasn’t stopped the mindfulness gurus from making them: Continue reading